In my April 2, 2018, post, I asked whether the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit would put another nail in the coffin of NSR enforcement for projects completed a long time (some of them, decades) before EPA or other plaintiffs filed a complaint alleging NSR violations. A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals answered in United States v. Luminant, No. 17-10235 (5th Cir. Oct. 1, 2018), by unanimously ruling that the statute of limitations bars civil penalties for NSR violations that allegedly occurred more than five years before the filing of the complaint. But in a 2-1 decision, the majority ruled that, while injunctive relief is also barred in those circumstances for non-government plaintiffs (Sierra Club, in this case), injunctive relief is still “available” when the government is seeking to enforce the Clean Air Act. In her dissent in part, Judge Elrod said she would have affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the case in all respects, characterizing any “injunctive” relief sought by the government as “really just time-barred penalties in disguise.” Continue Reading Yes, Said the Fifth Circuit: We Have Put Another Nail in the Coffin of NSR Enforcement for Ancient Projects; But It Is Not The Final Nail
The New Source Review (NSR) program of the Clean Air Act requires major stationary sources to go through an extensive, time-consuming, and expensive review and permitting process prior to construction. Among other requirements, such sources are required to install the best available control technologies (BACT) to reduce levels of specific regulated pollutants. The NSR program also applies to existing facilities if they are modified in ways that result in significantly increased emissions.
The pace of enforcement actions has decreased in recent years, but more than a decade-and-a-half of NSR enforcement litigation has failed to settle the main legal issues, resulting in contradictory court decisions. This lack of certainty has significant implications to how sources must evaluate compliance going forward.
To learn more, read this article originally published in Natural Gas & Electricity’s September 2018 issue. Felicia Barnes, now an associate at Beveridge & Diamond, was a contributing author.
Our regulatory state is founded on the principle that regulated parties must have notice of their compliance obligations. Laws or regulations that fail to give fair notice violate due process and cannot give rise to liability. See, e.g., Gen. Elec. Co. v. EPA, 53 F.3d 1324 (D.C. Cir. 1995).
A notoriously unclear regulatory program addresses circumstances under which an existing facility triggers the Clean Air Act’s (CAA) “new source review” (NSR) program and its associated control technology and air quality review requirements. Over the past two decades, courts have concluded that the same words in the regulations have diametrically opposed meanings. Compare Nat’l Parks Conservation Ass’n, Inc. v. TVA, No. 3:01-CV-71, 2010 WL 1291335 (E.D. Tenn.Mar. 31, 2010) (boiler tube replacement is “routine” repair and replacement) with United States v. Ohio Edison Co., 276 F. Supp. 2d 829 (S.D. Ohio 2003) (boiler tube replacement is not “routine” repair and replacement). Indeed, after addressing the application of NSR to an industrial facility on two occasions, one three-judge panel in the Sixth Circuit produced five different opinions advancing three different interpretations of key provisions of the rules. See United States v. DTE Energy Co., 711 F.3d 643 (6th Cir. 2013); United States v. DTE Energy Co., 845 F.3d 735 (6th Cir. 2017). Disagreement among judges over the meaning of a regulation is objective evidence of a rule’s failure to provide fair notice of its compliance obligations. Continue Reading NSR Reform — EPA’s ACE Proposal
The New Source Review (NSR) Program of the Clean Air Act (CAA) requires large new plants (in the parlance of the Act “major” “stationary sources”) to go through an extensive, time consuming and expensive review and permitting process prior to construction. Such sources are required through these permits, among other requirements, to install the best available control technologies (BACT) to reduce levels of specific regulated pollutants. The NSR program also applies to existing facilities if they are modified in substantial ways and if, as a result, emissions increase by significant amounts (these are known as “major modifications”). Continue Reading Will the Fifth Circuit Put Another Nail in the Coffin of NSR Enforcement for Ancient Projects?